PEOPLE HELPING PEOPLE

Senior volunteers and elementary school students bridge the generation gap every week in a successful partnership between Friendship Centers and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County.

“Volunteers come in and the kids read to them. It’s just this beautiful exchange,” says Robert Rogers, Friendship Centers’ director of community outreach. “The kids and adults are really grateful for the experience.”

Dave Adams and Mary McEnery, a snowbird couple from the Chicago area, are two volunteers involved in the intergenerational project that kicked off in the fall of 2016. The couple had previously delivered meals to the homebound for Friendship Centers for eight years.

“It’s fun to work with different kids, and the stories they pick are cute,” says McEnery, 80. “It’s a mystery they take turns reading. We help them with the words.”

In addition to reading books chosen by the Boys & Girls Clubs, the children, this year in second and third grade, complete crossword puzzles, scrambles and word searches to develop their vocabulary.

“The kids are smart. Their brains seem to work better than ours,” says Adams, 77.

On a recent Tuesday afternoon, Adams and McEnery paired up with Mia and Italiana, 8-year-olds from the Boys & Girls Club’s Newtown Estates Park Club. The plan is to host a different club each semester, but the Newtown students enjoyed themselves so much last fall that they were invited back, says Rogers.

“It’s fun,” says Mia. “I think it’s a very good idea so you can actually learn more reading. We can read these books and learn how to pronounce words.”

“I like Friendship Centers because it has a lot of volunteers that help you get more educated,” says Italiana.

Judi Hennard, 77, says she volunteered to take part in the project because she misses reading with her 7-year-old granddaughter, who lives in New Jersey.

“They are all good readers. We get a lot of hugs,” says Hennard, a former director of the Manatee Literacy Council.

Tight bonds have formed between the volunteers and the youngsters, says Rogers, and the volunteers themselves have become friends, too, all with the same goal, making reading fun.

Rogers plans to replicate the Boys & Girls Club program on the Friendship Centers’ Venice campus.